Job Coaching and Mentoring for People with Disabilities
Despite the progress made in the last 20 years on the integration of persons with disabilities (PWD) into the world of work, the numbers regarding job placement still describe a highly problematic situation. A crucial issue is the one concerning young people for whom vocational training and internships risk not being a gateway to the world of work, but a “revolving door” in which they remain trapped. The cause of this is the cultural heritage that sees people with disabilities like a burden, who must be assisted and cannot fully enter the productive path. It is necessary to intervene on this aspect, raising awareness of the many existing good practices and positive experiences; people with disabilities are not only attentive and productive workers –provided their workplace is properly designed and they receive adequate support – but also they are less absent, they improve the workplace climate and raise the overall level of productivity. It is also necessary to help PWDs to have confidence in their own resources and to propose themselves as workers with skills that companies cannot do without. Guidance to work placement does not include any prescriptive procedure but is an activity with an educational dimension; it means to accompany the person with disabilities in the search for work with operational and concrete tools.
Through this module you will learn how a narrative approach helps to accompany the person with disabilities in the recognition of their strengths and needs (Unit 1) and in reactivating motivation and engagement (Unit 2) improving their perception of self-efficacy. At the end of the process you will have an idea of how the labour market works and how to prepare an action plan together with the person with disability you are supporting (Unit 3).
Guidance intervention which employs psychological methods in order to foster a better knowledge of your inner self as a key element for employment and the adaptation process to a specific job. Since it requires a client-professional relationship, usually it is carried out on an individual level.
State of psychosocial tension between personal needs and social opportunities in order to reach goals that will satisfy the individual involved.
Guidance intervention using questionnaires and information to simplify the matching process that assigns suitable working positions to different applicants. The intervention can be addressed to individuals, groups, or can be self-regulated, by referring to guides or online vocational guidance programmes.
A person’s network of contacts that can be of help in searching for a job
Recent phenomenon concerning the deconstruction of work, making it more and more frequently a task that starts as a project and ends up as a product.
The postmodern context is by definition unstable and fluid. This is why the world of work has radically changed. Unemployed people who want to change their job or those who have to make important decisions regarding their training must face many challenges. The economic, technological and digital development has greatly modified the organisations’ structure. We are witnessing the “deconstruction” of labour and the “de-jobbing” phenomenon where a task starts with a project and ends with a product. 21st century institutions should advise new opportunities in a fluid, rather than a stable society. People must take more responsibility in order to be in control of their own careers and be the masters of their lives.
In the 21st century, the deep transformation of the labour market and the global economy has imposed new challenges. In this context, career counselling is the perfect instrument to help people adapt to this reality. It provides effective problem-solving tools to workers in order to be able to face constant job changes, leading them to a better understanding of their life project and finding professional and suitable solutions. Career development life construction is a narrative approach characterised by the use of biographical reasoning for the construction of one’s personal and working identity. Its purpose is to enable people to face professional/personal transitions in a better way. Moreover, its scope is to develop a proactive approach and foster an autonomous growth in order to make one’s project real as well as starting decision-making processes which lead to the conscious implementation of a personal life project. In the 21st century, the key factor to confront the labour market is no longer promptness, but reflection which is useful to respond effectively to new challenges that see self-consciousness as the most important resource.
In the context of professional orientation, starting an empowerment process means, especially for people with disability, to have a better control over their lives and external factors that can influence them. This intervention should be based on four postulates:
Each individual is of great value and dignity;
Each person must have the opportunity to develop his or her potential to the fullest and must be put in the position to do so;
In people there is a natural inclination for growth and improvement;
Each individual should be free to decide how to manage his or her existence.
The key element of an effective intervention is the active involvement of the PWD because he/she fully participates in reconstructing and self-assessing his/her professional/personal path. He/she also gathers information about the labour market and the professional profile of interest, formulating his/her own action plan.
The Future of work: are your skills up to date?
Skills are the 21st century currency that shape the future of society and economy
The assessment of resources not only enables the assisted PWD to follow a specific procedure, but also shapes their operational plan according to real hopes and needs. It means giving attention to strengths so to reactivate motivation and a sense of self-efficacy, stressing the individual’s awareness. In fact, thanks to the career counselling process, people can be far more aware of their own resources and they can plan their journey by listening to their desires and ambitions.
Competences can be defined as a “structured set of knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for the effective performance of a work task” (Pellerey M. (1983), in Di Fabio A. (2005), Bilancio di competenze e orientamento formativo. Florence: Ed. Giunti, page 22). They can appear as 2 different types:
hard skills represent all those technical and specific skills required for a job. These abilities are not only linked to personal knowledge and skills acquired during training and specialisation courses, but also directly in the workplace. They are easily quantifiable, observable and indispensable to carry out a given task.
soft skills refer to all those transversal abilities that are not strictly related to a single professional profile, involving both attitudes inherent in each individual, and behaviours learned when performing different activities. They differ from hard skills for the difficulty in quantifying and observing them. In short, they describe how each of us carries out an activity without dwelling on the type of task performed. Transversal skills make us unique.
Case Study – Anticipating obstacles, becoming aware of one’s own resources, revalorizing one’s self-image
A possible path to be proposed to the PWD to accompany him/her in getting back into play
Marco is a 35-year-old young adult, with a slight intellectual disability and is followed by the social services since he was at school. After acquiring a certificate of attendance at a vocational school for administrative-secretarial staff, he has done several internships in different fields; the first ones for observational purposes and then aimed at work placement, which has never happened so far. He is tired of this situation and wants to obtain an employment contract. He identifies the following obstacles to the realisation of his desire of job stability: the limits of the system, the impossibility to look for a job, the lack of suitable opportunities for him.
The job coach identifies the idea of not being able to look for a job as a starting point to work on, and sets out a path of guidance aimed at detecting his resources through a narrative approach. Using special tools, the operator wants to confront with the client on the qualities that he possesses and that he can use in the search for a job. This discovery journey of Marco’s resources aims to raise his self-confidence, which proves to be very low. Concerning the workplaces he has been before, he says: “I often had so many things to ask because I never knew what I had to do the next day. Sometimes I had so many things to say, but I never talked and, in the end, when they told me they would not hire me, it was too late. When they explained me what I had to do I seemed to understand, but then I was always afraid to have forgotten something so I waited for someone to notice me and tell me again what I had to do”.
Initially the client is not willing to question himself, he blames others, he does not recognize that he too can try to change the situation. “I will never be able to find a job, I am always discarded. Being discarded is a big trouble, finding a job is too difficult, for me it’s impossible”.
After recreating his profile with his resources and aspects to improve, Marco is proposed to carry out, independently, some useful steps to search for a job (drafting his CV, compiling his network of personal contacts, keeping a diary in which to record the activities carried out and looking for a list of companies in which he would like to work). He willingly accepts the proposal and says: “Now I know that I can do things, that when I am at work I can give my contribution, I found out that I can remember the procedures. I think I will be able to find a company that is interested in me, I am not a reject”.
The intervention process is divided into two steps. We provide a series of worksheets hereunder in order to guide you through the feasible activities you can perform along with the PWD you want to support.
Step 1: identification and specification of the purpose or problem
The operator and the PWD proceed together: from the creation of a working alliance to the collection and interpretation of data, up to the elaboration of hypotheses. The method to be adopted in the conduct of the meeting must support autonomy and therefore it is necessary to:
– Treat all persons with disabilities as adults regardless of the severity of their conditions
Accompanying a person in finding a job and during the job experience does not include any prescriptive process but is an activity based on empathy, listening, unconditional acceptance of what the person brings and on building together the career path. It is about searching together the values and desires that move the subject in the search for employment. The evaluation of what emerges from the interview has an educational dimension, i.e. it is not made to classify the subject but in the perspective of personal development. Therefore, it is important to use tools that allow the person with disabilities to perform a self-assessment. It is a path that develops over time.
The tool that can be used is the “personal diary” which includes tasks, elements of support and exercises that accompany the reflection activity. The participant thus becomes the protagonist of his/her own path while the Job coach offers a framework for the analysis and interpretation of what emerges. Writing the diary starts with the reconstruction of the personal and professional life path, which allows to make a collection of the subject’s skills and resources. In order to rebuild the professional identity, the PWD can make a reflection on his/her own values, for example thanks to the following worksheet:
Job seeking support is an ongoing process, so it is important that the PWD learns to find answers to their needs independently by resorting to the resources around them. There are two aspects to work on: the first concerns the freedom to ask questions. Often, we are ashamed to ask for help, so there is the need to help people recognise that our identity emerges in relation to the others, so the other can be an opportunity and a resource I can rely on. When this part of the work is done, it is important to act in practice and provide the PWD with useful information in order to build a network. To this end, it is useful to analyse together their personal network to find out who can be of help and how and imagine different ways to expand it.
The following worksheet offers a guide to conduct this activity.
Exploring possible alternatives: developing an action plan
This path is an ongoing process in which the operator and the PWD work simultaneously on self-exploration and on the analysis of the context and the initiatives to be taken based on the reflections made. In order to explore the opportunities and understand what is best to take advantage of, it is necessary to start from the goals the person wants to achieve. The goals must be specific, observable, defined over time and achievable, so it is not simply a matter of defining what seems to be more natural as a goal to achieve. It is necessary to be able to observe and document the process of approaching the goal. Providing opportunities for PWDs to discuss their goals, writing them down, encouraging them to talk openly about their ideas with the people they care about, helps them to focus more clearly on their goals. It is really important to help them update and change their goals to make them even more specific and achievable.
The labour market is the place where the job demand (e.g. from companies, entrepreneurs, public bodies) meets the job supply, i.e. workers. This simple definition unfortunately hides a rather confused or contradictory reality. In fact, the labour market does not really work as a real market and often those seeking personnel and those seeking employment have trouble in finding a common ground. This is partly due to the lack of information on the labour and professions market. With little and sometimes distorted information, the labour market works very badly: imagine a shoe store without windows, without clerks, with piles of shoes here and there and other shoes in boxes without labels … what kind of purchases could be made in such a place? Well, the “labour market” is like this: with few information, few guides, few entry signs. But still, in this market there are opportunities: the problem is that nobody generally shows people how to seize them. Until 30 years ago, it was the job finding people: simple occupations (e.g. baker, accountant, clerk) were easy to find. Today the professions are several thousands, they offer great opportunities which people are hardly aware of. People tend to look all for the same jobs, in the same areas.
The image that best suits the labour market is that of the iceberg. The visible part, the one that emerged and that everybody knows, is only a small part. Most of the iceberg is hidden under water.
Searching for a job effectively means knowing the labour market in its entireness and look in the hidden part, where there are more opportunities and less competition in the recruitment phase.
Looking in the less accessible part of the labour market, the “underwater” part of the iceberg, can offer many more job opportunities than one would think. This is what can be found:
New or lesser-known professions: in the most visible part of the labour market there are the traditional professions, those known to everyone, which it is possible to get in contact with every day.
Job opportunities through informal channels: 70% of the Italian employees work in companies with less than 100 employees. Most of these companies do not invest in recruitment campaigns. This means that the search for personnel passes through informal channels.
Small companies: large companies often outsource part of their production to small satellite companies, some of which are leaders in their niche sector. These are an interesting share of companies to look at when searching for a job. While most people apply to large companies wrongly thinking that they hire more staff, while very few people apply to smaller companies.
What escapes the statistics: statistics depict an average which not necessarily represents the reality we live in. We may read that the footwear industry is in crisis while we have a booming footwear company near home, or that the demand for clinical psychologists in Italy is now saturated and discover that in our city there is a lack of these professionals. Investigating the hidden market allows us to get a precise picture of the job opportunities in the area where we would like to work.
More flexible forms of work: more and more employers are starting to use flexible forms of contracts that meet the production needs of the company. The so-called “permanent position” is no longer the norm, but many other ways of being employed can broaden the range of the available
3.3 Ensuring good compatibility between the companies’ needs and candidates’ skills through the organisation of a job search plan
In order to support people with disabilities in finding a job, it is useful to give them precise and practical suggestions according to the autonomy and skills they possess. In general, the steps that can be suggested concern:
The documentation activity consists in the research and reading of published information with the aim of:
Knowing in detail the field of interest and discover which professions exist, how they are called, where they can be carried out and in which way
Getting prepared to talk to professionals for an informative interview in order to collect strategic information
Finding out which companies operate in the field of interest and choose the ones the PWD would like to work in
Preparing for job search and recruitment.
To carry out the documentation activity you can collect information in magazines or websites which deal with the sector in general and then get to consult more specialized tools.
The informative interview is an interview with a person who knows directly the field of work the PWD is interested in, which aims to gather information about the professions and the sector and to build a network of contacts.
If you don’t know anyone in the sector of interest you should look for someone who knows them by asking friends, relatives, acquaintances, neighbours or by contacting trade associations or directly companies in order to find out the name of the person who holds the professional profile you are looking for.
Once you have identified the person you want to interview, the best way to get an appointment is to contact them by phone to fix a date and a place. The phone call is a very delicate moment and its success largely depends on how you handle it.
Before conducting the interview, you should prepare yourself by gathering information about the person’s job and the sector; have a clear idea of the information you want to collect; have a list of smart questions to ask them.
The questions should be about:
Characteristics of the profession
Features of the company
Techniques used for job search
Tips and tricks
The goal of networking is to obtain information. Its construction allows you to:
increase the number of contacts
meet and get to know more people doing the work that interests you
collect information about a company or a profession
make the research strategy known
discover hidden job opportunities or create new ones.
It could be good to define an amount of time to dedicate to the research (for example three hours a day) and distribute it over the week. This makes it possible to give regularity to the activity, and to guarantee a daily commitment.
Set the time dedicated to research in a flexible way, according to the activities to be carried out. The timetable must take into account the appointments, the time needed to complete a task, the opening hours of offices, libraries, etc.
Use a weekly schedule in which to mark things to do, so as to optimise the research activity and have it clear what to do, when, where and by what deadline. Write down everything you need to do, mark it under the precise date and tick it out when it is done. Schedule activities from week to week so that you are always active.
Place the most unpleasant tasks, the ones you usually tend to put off, at the beginning of the day, otherwise they turn into a worry factor that negatively affects other things to do.
Leave space throughout the day and week for pleasant leisure activities that relax and recharge. Avoid stress from too much work (it is paradoxical to get it without an occupation!).
Organise the information: during the research you will have to deal with a lot of information collected from books, internet, magazines, newspapers, interviews, etc. Organisation is fundamental to be in control of the process.
In Worksheet 9 we provide an example of Action Plan to help keep track of the actions that the PWD decides to take in light of the guidance received.
Roberta, 40 years old, has always been a housewife. She has a driving license, has never worked and has a lower secondary school diploma. She is disoriented and has no idea what having a job means. Until now she has never done anything to look for a job. Her situation has become complicated after she became 46% disabled because of an illness, a disability that entitles her to targeted placement but makes it impossible for her to perform some simpler and more operational tasks.
She is looking for a job because she is in a crisis with her husband and wants to gain her autonomy.
She is interested in becoming a worker in the textile and clothing sector because, as a young girl, she had a short experience as a buttonhole maker and it is an activity that she can carry out in her current physical condition.
She doesn’t know how to use a computer and doesn’t know any foreign language.
Career development life construction is a narrative approach characterised by the use of biographical reflection for building one’s personal and professional identity that aims to accompany people to better face professional/personal transitions. It is based on the active involvement of the PWD as a key element for an effective intervention. Assessing the person’s resources means being able to follow a specific procedure to focus attention on strengths in order to activate their motivation and perception of self-efficacy. It is important that the PWD learns to find the answers to their needs independently by appealing to the resources in and around them. There is a hidden part of the labour market that offers many more opportunities than one would think. To support people with disabilities in finding a job, it is useful to give them precise and concrete suggestions according to the autonomy and skills they possess.
More about how to find suitable and meaningful jobs for people with disabilities in the guidelines of the International Labour Organization “Job and work analysis : guidelines on identifying jobs for persons with disabilities” (Robert Heron, ILO Skills and Employability Department, 2005): http://www.ilo.int/skills/pubs/WCMS_111484/lang–en/index.htm
Bernaud J. L. (2015), Psycologie de l’accompagnement. Paris: Dunod éditeur
Di Fabio, A., and Blustein, D. L. (2016). From meaning of working to meaningful lives: The challenges of expanding decent work. Lausanne: Frontiers Media.
Di Fabio, A., and Bernaud, J.-L. (2014). The Construction of the Identity in 21st Century: A Festschrift for Jean Guichard. New York: Nova Science Publishers.
Di Fabio A. (2005), Bilancio di competenze e orientamento formativo. Florence: Ed. Giunti
Duffy D. D., Blustein D. L., Diemer M. A., and Autin K. L. (2016), The Psychology of Working Theory. Retrieved from Journal of Counseling Psychology, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, Vol. 63, No. 2, 127–14
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